Read Matthew 18:21-35.

Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? (Matthew 18:21)

Poor Peter. He really takes it on the chin sometimes.

One minute Jesus is saying “on this rock I will build my church”; the next he says “get behind me Satan.” Peter is taken up the mountain to witness the transfiguration, and then Jesus tells the disciples they are unable to heal for lack of faith.

The highest mountains are amid the deepest valleys

Jesus’ response to Peter’s question about how often he should forgive begins with a king calling in a debt from a slave who owes 10,000 talents—a lifetime of wages for an army of thousands of workers. The slave promises to work off the debt. Absurd. And yet the king forgives him.

Think of the implications of this response for Peter. Jesus implies that Peter is entirely unaware of the depth of his debt, that he implicitly assumes he has no debt when he thinks he is being generous by offering to forgive seven times.


You can’t have a mountain except that it is surrounded by valleys

In order for the slave to have a right relationship with the king and with the other slaves, he needs to be aware of the size of the debt that was forgiven him. If he is presumptuous with other slaves, with the king, he will be handed over to torture until he pays his debt.

If he remembers the debt that was forgiven him, he will happily forgive others. And if he serves the king in whole-hearted gratitude, he may be invited in to see the king again.

There is no approaching the mountain except through the valley

Knowledge of self comes before knowledge of God. You must enter into yourself and see yourself as you are. Any glimpse of the mountain reveals the depth of the valley. You cannot climb the mountain without first descending into the valley from whatever little hill you may be standing on.

As twelfth-century author Richard of St Victor put it,

In vain [a person] raises the eye of the heart to see God when he is not yet prepared to see himself. . . . If you are not able to know yourself, how do you have the boldness to grasp at those things which are above you?

Whoever thirsts to see God, . . . let him cleanse his spirit [as a mirror]: . . . to hold it so that it does not adhere to the earth, after it has fallen down by means of love; to wipe it so that it does not become dirty from the dust of useless thoughts; to gaze into it so that the eye of his intention does not turn toward empty pursuits.*

Discernment precedes contemplation, and self-knowledge is the beginning of discernment.

*Richard of St Victor, Paulist Press, 1979, p. 129-130.

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and